My summer wine is really made from all these things..."
So sang Nancy Sinatra in Lee Hazelwood's magnificently weird tale of seduction and theft. We are indeed in the season of soft fruits and osculation, but I prefer my summer when it tastes of well-tended vines in good soil and sunshine. Call me unadventurous if you must.
Summer leisure is all about sitting out in the sunshine, watching the cricket, tennis or even the boating. It's about picnics, evenings in the garden, open-air theatre and opera; music festivals, barbecues and skinny-dipping. To my mind, the wines we drink need to reflect the colour, the joy and the lightness of the warm months. There are certain wines that just feel right. On the other hand, there are some wines that, however popular, never seem to fit for me. We all have our preferences, and I'd like to share mine. I hope you enjoy my suggestions.
It's no secret that I love the wines of Burgundy. All white wine produced in the region is made from 100% Chardonnay grapes. In the south, around Chalon, Macôn and Beaune, where the sun shines long and hot on soft soils, the grape produces full-bodied wines with a strong butter-and-lemon-zest taste. Chablis, however, is in the far north of the region, where the ground is hard and full of fossilised sea shells. Here the same grape produces a much cleaner wine than it does further south. It's so clean that it's almost surgical. The lemon flavour now has all the freshness of newly-squeezed juice. Imagine cutting a ripe lemon with a good steel knife, then licking the blade: that's a Chablis. While Chablis is an extremely versatile wine, matching well with a wide variety of foods, there is one thing above all else that it cries out for - chilled, poached salmon. You can have your salmon on sandwiches, in a salad with lemon mayonnaise, or with boiled potatoes and watercress sauce, but pair it with a Chablis and your summer picnic will be singing like a Glyndebourne prima donna.
I get a lot of adverts in my email and social media at this time for year for wines that have been "specially selected for your favourite barbecue meats." They seem to be invariably heavy, dark wines, oozing thick, jammy fruit flavours, like plum, damson and over-ripe cherries. Some may even boast aromas of liquorice, tar and cedar. All lovely wines, I'm sure, but to my mind better suited to braised beef in the winter than grilled pork on a (hopefully) warm afternoon. For red wines, just as much as for white ones, light and frivolous are the marks of good summer wine. Even when you're grilling steaks, try serving a pinot noir or a gamay wine, lightly chilled. Don't buy a posh Burgundy: go for a pinot from Italy or New Zealand. Beaujolais is made from gamay. You also can get superb gamay wines from the Loire. If you choose a fairly young one, it'll have enough fruit about it and sufficient tannin to back up your steak, but the lighter body and sweeter perfume make it better suited to afternoon drinking.
Whatever your taste in wine, I hope you have a happy and safe summer, and that we're able to spend more time with loved ones soon. Do let me know if you make any wine discoveries in the coming months.
Next time: celebrating France.